I’m reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Outliers: The Story of Success. If you haven’t picked it up, I highly suggest you do. Chapter Five is dedicated to The Three Lessons of Joe Flom. Yes, that Joe Flom. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, Flom. Skadden is one of the firms all the other firms aspire to be. It is the premier litigation shop in New York, if not the entire United States. You go to Skadden with your “bet the farm” cases. You go to Skadden when you are facing serious federal jail time. You go to Skadden when you don’t care what hourly billing rate you are given. You go to Skadden for results, and, from what I have seen, few people, if any, are every dissatisfied. Yet Skadden didn’t start out that way:

In the beginning, it was just Marshall Skadden, Leslie Arps – both of whom had just been turned down for partner at a major Wall Street law firm – and John Slate, who had worked for Pan Am airlines. Flom [who did not receive any offers during hiring season] was their associate …. “What kind of law did we do?” Flom says, laughing. “Whatever came in the door!” Outliers, p. 118

Skadden Arps began by practicing litigation. Litigation that the Wall Street firms would not touch because it was beneath them.

The old-line Wall Street law firms had a very specific idea about what it was that they did. They were corporate lawyers. They represented the country’s largest and most prestigious companies …. They did not do litigation; that is, very few of them had a division dedicated to defending and filing lawsuits. Outliers, p. 124

Skadden became Skadden by finding a niche (litigation) and practicing it well. When the corporate takeovers began in the 1970s, Skadden was well positioned to become the go-to law firm. So, what’s the point of the story? I think there are many, but you’ll have to read the book to find the ones that resonate with you.
I, for one, forget sometimes that so many of our firms have been built on the humble backs of hard working men and women. Go through the framed degrees on the walls of your founding partners and you will find amongst the Harvard and Yale degrees, Brooklyn Law School, Seton Hall University, Pepperdine University, University of San Diego, and Southwestern University School of Law.
While it is admirable to aspire to the reputation of Skadden Arps, it is just as admirable to aspire to the tenaciousness of Marshall Skadden, Leslie Arps, John Slate and Joe Flom.